“I Think They’re Attempting Hybridisation. They’re Upgrading On Every Planet They Visit…”
With it being thirty one years since the original Predator in which Arnold Schwarzenegger out muscled Carl Weathers and a brand new monster franchise was violently brought to the attention of Hollywood, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys) brings his own particular twist to the series with a direct sequel to the previous entries which features over-inflated ego’s, jaw-dropping violence and an eclectic twist of tones as we see the threat of the titular monster land on the doorstep of Boyd Holbrook’s (Logan) Quinn McKenna, a merciless Army Ranger sniper whose team are swiftly massacred after a mysterious alien ship crash lands on earth. With Black himself famously having a leading role in the original, his penchant for black comedy which has been rife throughout his directorial back catalogue thus far is surprisingly the standout tone of The Predator, a film which attempts to pay respects to the original with ridiculous levels of violence and an overwhelming B-movie sensibility, but a sequel which too ultimately feels nothing more than a slice of popcorn flashiness without the lingering aftershock which made the original release back in 1987 so darn re-watchable even after initial sniffy reviews back in the day. What’s the point of film critics anyhow? Please continue.
Following in the footsteps of the soon-to-be released Mile 22 by disregarding the fundamental laws of film-making by glossing over basic characterisation and seemingly hiring editors who are hooked on some sort of maniacal drug, Black’s movie doesn’t half move like a bullet train, hooking audiences straight into the action as a quick detour into the jungle leads onward to hidden government bases, Halloween covered schools and finally back to the jungle as our titular murderous beast gleefully tears the wide range of cannon fodder violently apart. With Black choosing to focus the heart of the action upon Holdbrook’s shoulders as his character finds himself on the self proclaimed “loony bus” alongside the likes of Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and Thomas Jane’s (The Punisher) rather forgettable but equally homicidal “troubled” soldiers, the quick quipped banter between the characters at first doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the movie whatsoever but as the movie progresses into more extreme and over the top territory, including a drastically overlong and plodding conclusion, Black’s vision is clearly groundwork for an expanse into wider Predator related territory, and whilst his latest is riddled with flaws and silly mistakes, the best way to view The Predator is to understand what it fundamentally is at heart; a trashy B-movie wannabee.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Nineteen Men Attacked Our Country. The Twelve Of You Will Be The First To Fight Back…”
Growing up throughout the late 1990’s and the early 20th century, whenever the name, Jerry Bruckheimer, appeared on the opening credits of a movie, my action loving, adrenaline fuelled teenage mind would jump in extended joy at the knowledge that what lay ahead was an eye-watering level of action and adventure which had me sold from the word, go. Whether it be The Rock, Bad Boys or Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, the standardised Bruckheimer release tends to consist of hyperbolic explosions, rugged leading heroes, and of course, guns, lots of guns, and what we have with 12 Strong, the directorial debut of Swedish filmmaker, Nicolai Fuglsig, is indeed a movie which confines strictly to such a model with a steady degree of success. Set directly after the events of 9/11, 12 Strong follows Chris Hemsworth’s (Thor) inexperienced Captain Mitch Nelson as he leads his titular team of warriors into the heart of Afghanistan in order to broaden alliances with Navid Negahban’s (American Assassin) General Abdul Rashid Dostum and strike back against the threat of the Taliban, personified by Numan Acar’s (The Great Wall) murderous leader, Razzan.
Based upon Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book “Horse Soldiers”, Fuglsig’s movie is full to the brim with mechanical, macho mayhem with notions about the price of war and the effect of 9/11 on the wider world simply glanced at in favour of endless action set pieces and somewhat cliched, emotionally manipulative character development. Thankfully for the first-time director however, the sheer spectacle and scale of the aforementioned action presented on-screen is surprisingly well done, with the mixture of well-tempered violence and sound design managing to inflict a rigorous amount of tension, and even when it becomes somewhat easy to giggle at witnessing a tight muscled Chris Hemsworth riding into battle upon a horse in a War for the Planet of the Apes-esque manner, 12 Strong doesn’t ever become too mindless to lose its’ audience completely. With a ensemble cast featuring the likes of Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals), Michael Peña (End of Watch) and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, the chemistry between the band of brothers is solidly captured, and whilst the film does seem at least twenty minutes too long, with a sense of familiarity and repetitiveness hanging over it come the concluding act, Fuglsig’s first shot at Hollywood is entertaining enough, and even with a ridiculously bald William Fichtner, 12 Strong is the type of Bruckheimer release I would have drooled over as a child, explosions and all. Bring the popcorn.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Won’t Let You Go. Hey Man. I Got You. There You Go. Ten Seconds. Right There. You In The Middle Of The World…”
Within the final paragraph of my first review for Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight not but a week past, I came to the conclusion that the eight time Oscar nominated picture was indeed an impressive piece of drama, but too a film which seemingly didn’t hold up to the impressive amount of hype which had surrounded its’ release for months since it first hit the festival circuit in late 2016, at least on first watch. With the review out for everyone to see, the usual state of affairs would be to forget the film and move swiftly on to the next one, particularly as on first glance, Moonlight didn’t seem to be the masterpiece many had declared it to be. However, in a rather surrealist fashion, this past week has been one in which a wild conundrum has been constructed within my cinematic mind, questioning my original decision regarding the movie’s qualities, due mainly to the fact that the sensual feelings and visuals of Barry Jenkins’ dramatic coming-of-age tale cannot escape my mind long enough for it to be regarded as something other than a work of excellence. For a reviewer who finds it hard sometimes to admit when he is wrong and hold his arms out to graciously accept a slice of humble pie, Moonlight is a strange case of a film which hypnotises you the more you think about it but more impressively, captivates you the more times you sit down and admire it.
Like many films before it in which repeat viewings has either resulted in a film being better or worse than it seemed on first watch, Moonlight is a movie which I now can fully understand for what it is; a social realist drama about the conflicted nature of love within the confines of Miami’s drug-ridden gang-lands, and although the film does still suffer from a middling final act in which the quest for ambiguity and exploration in terms of its’ character’s emotions does still become slightly repetitive and arduous, Trevante Rhodes does do a superb job of portraying a character who although is powerful and intimidating on the surface, underneath is a firework of emotions, lit by the calling of his one and only experience of love, concluding in a battle of repressed emotion which bears similarities to Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester By The Sea, a similarly low-key drama which focuses on the understatement of feelings rather than the dramatic pull of shouty soap-like confrontation. As stated previously, Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are indeed the stars of the show, with the former cementing an unforgettable performance of a cliche-avoiding drug dealer in the short time he has on-screen and the latter on second watch coming across as a terrifying entity of drug-infested mania, with the scene in which her character is filmed backwards harking towards more of a surrealist horror infliction and boy is it startling.
Another element of Moonlight which was more noticeable on second watch was the superb choice of music encompassing the film’s score, with Nicholas Britell mixing a crafty selection of modern hip-hop, classic soul and a striking use of strings, particularly “The Middle of the World”, a violin-heavy piece of music which hits an arrangement of nerves in an almost Lynchian and somewhat surrealist fashion, adding breadth to the evidence of the film’s more horror-inflicted elements. Concluding this particular feature therefore, Moonlight is indeed a working progress of a movie, where although La La Land and Manchester By The Sea are arguably more effective as an entire body of work, Moonlight is a movie which just can’t seem to escape my train of thought for any meaningful length of time. What Barry Jenkins has here is a movie which has been scuppered by the tremendous level of hype surrounding it and whilst many would have shared similar views to my own on first glance, a second watch has improved and highlighted its’ more impressive elements ten-fold. Whilst La La Land is still my personal preference for the Best Picture nod, Moonlight is the type of movie which wouldn’t surprise me if it took the prestigious gong instead, a particular statement I wouldn’t have said a week ago. How things change…
Overall Score: 8.5/10
“At Some Point You’ve Got To Decide Who You Wanna Be…”
Striding hand-in-hand with La La Land for the two most hyped cinematic releases of the year, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is the type of movie of which its’ reputation more than precedes it, gathering overwhelming critical response from across the critical stratosphere and a fair number of Oscar nominations to support its’ claim as a modern masterpiece of cinema. Where La La Land managed to actually exceed expectations, so much so that two visits to see it in the cinema just isn’t enough, Moonlight is yet another example of a film-going experience which just doesn’t seem to correlate with its’ preconceived notions of excellence, with it being yes, a movie which is made with a huge degree of gentle care and dedication to its’ source material, but is too also largely nonexistent in attempting to create a succinct relationship between its’ leading characters and the audience, resulting in a movie which follows in similar strides to Martin Scorsese’s Silence earlier on in the year in the sense that although its’ craft is admirable, the final result isn’t the masterpiece I was hell bent on expecting.
Following in three acts the troubled early life of Chiron, a conflicted and withdrawn character born into the drug-ridden and crime inflicted surroundings of an unnamed geographical area of America, Moonlight delves deep into the organic nature of life itself, with its’ central protagonist slipping through year after year without a crystal clear notion of his own true identity in a Boyhood style tale of discovery amidst the backdrop of an atmosphere that bears similarities to the nihilistic portrayal of society within HBO’s The Wire. Although each of the three depictions of Chiron throughout the movie give solid performances, the true standouts of the movie are the double-header of House of Cards/Luke Cage star Mahershala Ali and Moneypenny herself, Naomie Harris, who each give rousing and emphatic performances within the quite shocking minimal time they actually appear on screen, amidst a screenplay which relies on the element of understatement to quietly and sometimes tediously get where its’ attempting to finally go. Moonlight is no doubt a impressive piece of drama from second-time writer/director Barry Jenkins, but it too is a film which doesn’t hold up to the impressive hype surrounding its’ release, at least on first watch.